Millions of readers and consumers look to fashion magazines for trends in style and culture. Who dictates these trends? Are they the designers themselves? How do magazines know which trends to follow?
I scheduled a phone interview with London-based former WGSN (Worth Global Style Network) contributor Samantha Southern who currently works for the creative education platform, Mastered. I came to her wanting to discuss the ins and outs of the industry that I couldn't get from other photographers in detail. I needed someone who knew the behind the scenes and the reason content and products are created in the first place.
I started our talk with my overall topic: trying to explore and search is the aesthetic and cultural differences of digital and printed content for magazines and brands in the US and UK
Off the bat, she said what everyone else has said. The US is more commercial, the UK is more free-spirited and artistic. However, her reasoning for that was unlike anything else I have heard so far.
The United States is big. The market is tremendously bigger than the UK's and therefore brands have to reach a wider audience that often results in compliance with more consumer's interests. We are more willing to put a celebrity on the cover of a magazine rather than a model because celebrity reflects the interest of our country and feels more accessible. The UK, London specifically, is smaller. The market is more independent by nature. Independent fashion designers, such as Alexander McQueen, target a small audience starting out. Those brands want consumers that are loyal and will stick to their aesthetic. In turn, these independent brands will spark trends that rise back up to the bigger brands. Smaller and independent publications do the same thing. Ideas start small, bigger companies and markets catch on and capitalize.
To even break this idea of markets down further, Samantha shared with me some statistics breaking down US Vogue versus UK Vogue. Both are luxury clothing publications owned by Conde Nast, but they serve very different markets. British Vogue is a dichotomy of old world tradition and heritage and cutting age innovation (both in their stories and photographers). American Vogue is more pop and accessible. British Vogue's photographic style has a mix of fantasy fashion (Tim Walker) and also realism and journalistic style (Alasdair Mclellan). American Vogue is more cinematic due to the celebrity nature (Annie Leibovtiz) and they tend to stick with older and more established artists. Looking at style, British Vogue is more rock and roll, heritage, and avant garde while American is a mix of playful but also wearable. US Vogue wants the clothes to be accessible and also fit the "persona" of the featured celebrity. Even down to typeface, stories, and placement of editorials the two markets are vastly different.
In regards to trend forecasting, it isn't as simple as "next season's jeans" or "scrunchies are coming back" but more analyzing cultural events and how that impacts a population's mindset and lifestyle. In this year, for example, the #MeToo movement has exploded. Women are speaking out against inappropriate behaviors and gaining empowerment. In spring's fashion week, we saw how these cultural changes have started to impact fashion and lifestyle. Tom Ford previewed a bag that said "P*SSY POWER", Burberry's line consisted of rainbow-clad models and statements of comfort in your own skin, and Alexander Wang pushed an 80s business aesthetic that called back to an era where fashion meant power and respect.
Samantha also touched on the state of the industry and who holds power. For decades, the fashion industry worked from the top down. Designers and magazines would dictate what was popular and who was relevant and the public had to acclimate. Now, the consumer has more power than ever. The public can keep a brand accountable and endorse who they believe in. After the overwhelmingly positive response to Rihanna's Fenty Beauty line (specifically the inclusivity of skin tone), many beauty brands expanded their product lines and consumers noticed. They noticed that the brand made a mistake but not being inclusive from the start, but appreciate a change in direction.
Consumers have more options than ever before. In the old days, a consumer would choose 1-2 magazine subscriptions a month and use those as their source of style inspiration. Now, we have hundreds of magazines. Thousands of designers. How do we know who to trust? Consumers now trust their own taste. We no longer are being dictated to, we can curate our feeds and libraries with the brands we like or the publications that fit our current aesthetic. Vogue's biggest audience in their circulation is women in their late 30s to early 40s. Those are women who can afford a magazine subscription as well as be able to participate in these bigger brands. Consumers in their 20s and 30s aren't as interested in spending money they don't have let alone on things that aren't being marketed toward them. That age group finds their own style and go-to company. We've seen a push for organic, hand-made, sustainable, and quality. We've also seen a huge push for diversity (which started in the UK) and authenticity in beauty and style.
One interesting push is natural beauty or "real" women in campaigns. The consumer wants to feel like they could be part of this company. Samantha brought up an interesting study that was done with a designer's recent campaign images. The survey sample said they loved a "natural" look to makeup and women, but when shown more "airbrushed" and polished images, they preferred that look over the more natural one. Filters and "facetuning" applications are very prominent in selfies to achieve this "perfect" look. The consumer wants more natural looks/representation from companies yet desires perfection for themselves. I have concluded that above all else, consumers want authenticity in brands to help discover what makes them feel the most comfortable.
So the big question is always who dictates trends? Is it the companies or the trend forecasters? In short, both. As a whole, society helps brands and forecasters (WGSN currently has 40,000 clients) narrow their target market and create products consumers will be interested in. This also helps decide in which ways a company will conduct an ad campaign. Digital or print? Stills or videos? Celebs or models? Distribution of content, in our current society, is based on the lifestyle patterns of the consumer.